This Sunday, we will encounter John the Baptist, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, urging us to repent, to turn and be baptized. What a sight this cousin of Jesus must have been, this young man from a fine, prominent family, standing in the river Jordan in nothing but animal skins, eating locusts and honey. We are not told much of his story, but one thing is for certain: something very profound has happened to him.
Last night, I had the privilege of worshipping with a beautiful band of folks – each of whom has had his or her own unique, often-harrowing, experience of the profound. In the stillness, we came together to pray, to wait and to reflect. Each moment built on the one before it, as we prayed those prayers we have come to know through the liturgy of the church and through various 12-Step fellowships. We share a common history of desperation (easy to identify with Isaiah’s prayer of desperation, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”). But we share also an experience of being salvaged for a life marked by hope, healing and self-forgetting love.
We have all found ourselves wandering in the wilderness at one time or another. Many of us know what it is to live on the edge, whether by choice or not. We have learned that if we are willing to take stock of our lives, if we are brave enough to ask for help, we can muster the courage to look beyond the edge. If we do, we will find what the psalmist tells us: that “mercy and truth have met together.”
Last night, during the prayers of the people, I heard the voices of friends and acquaintances, some of whom I’ve heard tens and even hundreds of times before in recovery-related activities. Hearing those voices resonate in the rafters of that beautiful sanctuary was for me nothing short of an experience of heaven — a promise of things to come.
(Photo taken by Nico Britton, Berkeley Divinity School pilgrimage to Canterbury, 2011)